DeepMind says this latest iteration of AlphaStar -- AlphaStar Final -- can play a full StarCraft 2 match under "professionally approved" conditions, importantly with limits on the frequency of its actions and by viewing the world through a game camera. It plays on the official StarCraft 2 Battle.net "StarCraft has been a grand challenge for AI researchers for over 15 years, so it's hugely exciting to see this work recognized in Nature," said DeepMind cofounder and CEO Demis Hassabis. "These impressive results mark an important step forward in our mission to create intelligent systems that will accelerate scientific discovery." DeepMind's forays into competitive StarCraft play can be traced back to 2017, when the company worked with Blizzard to release an open source tool set containing anonymized match replays.
Players of the science-fiction video game StarCraft II faced an unusual opponent this summer. An artificial intelligence (AI) known as AlphaStar -- which was built by Google's AI firm DeepMind -- achieved a grandmaster rating after it was unleashed on the game's European servers, placing within the top 0.15% of the region's 90,000 players. The result, published on 30 October in Nature1, shows that an AI can compete at the highest levels of StarCraft II, a massively popular online strategy game in which players compete in real time as one of three factions -- the human Terran forces or the aliens Protoss and Zerg -- battling against each other in a futuristic warzone. DeepMind, which previously built world-leading AIs that play chess and Go, targeted StarCraft II as its next benchmark in the quest for a general AI -- a machine capable of learning or understanding any task that humans can -- because of the game's strategic complexity and rapid pace. "I did not expect AI to essentially be superhuman in this domain so quickly, maybe not for another couple of years," says Jon Dodge, an AI researcher at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
DeepMind has ambitions to solve some of the world's most complex problems using artificial intelligence. But first, it needs to get really good at StarCraft. After months of training, the Alphabet-owned AI firm's AlphaStar program is now capable of playing a full game of StarCraft II against a professional human player – and winning. It might sound frivolous, but mastering a game as complex as StarCraft is a major technological leap for DeepMind's AI brains. The company showed off AlphaStar in a livestream where the five agents created by the program were initially pitted against professional player Dario "TLO" Wünsch in a pre-recorded five-game series.
DeepMind's artificial intelligence platforms have become legendary for their ability to master complex games like chess, shogi and Go, crushing our puny human brains with advanced machine learning techniques. Earlier this year a new version of the AI built for real-time strategy game StarCraft II, dubbed AlphaStar, was unveiled and carried on DeepMind's tradition of putting humans to shame, trampling some of the top human StarCraft II players in the world. On Wednesday, the DeepMind team published a new study of AlphaStar in the journal Nature, detailing just how far AlphaStar has come. And folks, it's bad news for any up-and-coming StarCraft II stars: The AI is now classed as a Grandmaster, which means it can beat 99.8% of all human players. Why would researchers build an AI for a niche video game title and what can it teach us about artificial intelligence and machine learning?
You'd be forgiven for assuming that DeepMind's artificial intelligence technology has already proven its chops. Back in 2016 the celebrated computer lab watched one of its AI programs do the unthinkable and win a game of Go against then world champion – and human being – Lee Sedol. Mastering the ancient Chinese board game was just one example of the machine learning DeepMind is hoping it can ultimately use to revolutionise sectors like science, healthcare, and energy. For the next step on that journey, DeepMind has turned its attention to StarCraft II. The seven-year-old RTS may still be an esports sensation, but it's not an obvious step up from Go.